Over any time of the year, I like Christmas the best.  Dull gray skies that hang over the Quad-Cities look brighter this time of year.

I like the jams of people in the stores and the Sally (Salvation Army) bell ringers, who usually look bored to be standing there.

You are out buying things for people you love and that makes you feel good. They are buying things for you, and that makes them feel good.

I can understand that things must change. Change is eternal. Even Santa must stare forward, not back, over his spectacles. But still I miss the clamor of Christmas past, when there were downtown stores that stayed open every night of the week before the magical day and Charley Witt, the portly Davenport cop on a three-wheeler, rode the streets in a Santa Claus outfit.

I can easily imagine that I am a kid again. I want to find a toyland version of the Ghost of Christmas Past from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

I tried to find it last weekend. Department stores once had entire floors of devoted to toys. Today’s toylands are scaled-down rows of shelving. The good names of Tinker Toys and Erector Sets are replaced by things like  Micro Charges and Gun Quick-Fire Disc Blasters.

“Pardon me,” I asked a young clerk, “but could you show me the way to the electric trains?”

She was puzzled, had never heard of magic names like Lionel or American Flyer. She led me to a shelf of plastic cartoon-y trains in a box with plastic tracks. Batteries required.

“No, no,” I insisted. “A real electric train, standard or HO gauge.”

She probably thought that had something to do                  with space travel.She had never heard of a figure-8 crossover.

“These are the trains we have,” she said, picking up a box with a plastic locomotive called “Thomas the Train.”

ONCE, TOYLANDS at stores such as Petersen-Harned-Von Maur and M.L. Parker and McCabe’s were swarmed with glassy-eyed kids, watching electric trains buzzing through switches and Lincoln Logs made into villages like “Little House on the Prairie.” Little girls could not be pried away from the Shirley Temple dolls and doll furniture and doll houses.

What sadly surprised me in today’s big-box toy departments was the absence of kids. It was all grownups, with carts balanced over the top with plastic wrapped toys.

Certainly, I reasoned, I could find the Ghost of Christmas Past in shelves of games.  I found Yahtzee and Monopoly, but was disgusted to see games with embarrassing, sometimes unrepeatable, names. The   von Maurs would have called the police if they found a games like that on the shelves at Petersen’s.

I HAD THE AUDACITY at one store to ask where I could find BB guns.

“What?” she said, startled.

“Yes, BB guns, like a Red Ryder or Buck Jones with a compass in the stock.”

She shook an unknowing head.


Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.